Sunday, June 15, 2008

Black Beans, Corn and Jack Cheese Casserole

This good looking and great tasting dish serves double duty as a main dish or an appetizer; it is great for pot luck too. Serve with any salsa like Salsa I or Salsa II or avocado salsa or Simple Guacamole with lots of fresh, warm, corn tortillas or tortilla chips.

The combination of beans and corn provides complete protein and the cheese boosts it even more. It is not only incredibly easy, but also makes a very healthy snack or even a meal. Canned beans (use 2 regular sized cans - probably about a pound each) can be substituted for freshly cooked ones if time is short. Beans freeze very well so I make at least a triple batch of beans and save the extra portions for dishes such as Black Bean Salad, Black Bean Soup, or Casamiento - a rice and bean casserole. Black beans, Corn and Cheese Casserole is quite child-friendly; in fact the children can help assemble it with a tiny bit of adult help. It can be assembled a day ahead and baked when ready to serve.

Ingredients:

1 cup dry Black Beans
1 small sprig each Oregano and Marjoram (or use 1/4 tsp dry)
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp American Chili Powder (a spice mix) - Optional
1/2 small Red Onion
1 Jalapeño chili (optional)
1 clove Garlic
Salt to taste
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly ground Black Pepper to taste
2 cups fresh or frozen defrosted Corn Kernels
1/2 cup fresh Cilantro, chopped
2 cups Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack Cheese, grated
1/2 cup EACH Fresh Cilantro and green onions, chopped

Salsas, Guacamole, Chips, etc. to serve

Method:

Sort the beans for unwanted materials like stones or discolored beans, etc. Wash thoroughly and soak in plenty of fresh water to cover. Soak for a few hours or overnight.

Drain the water and rinse the beans. Place in a large, heavy stock pot with fresh water to cover them and bring to a boil. Add salt and the sprigs of marjoram and oregano. Simmer for about 45 minutes or until the beans are very soft. Remove and discard the herb sprigs. If there is too much broth, remove and save for soup. Mash the beans well, mix with the chili powder if using and set aside. (If using canned beans, drain, rinse and mash them with the chili powder).

Prepare the vegetables while the beans are cooking. Cut the jalapeño chili in half, remove seeds and membranes and chop finely ( you might want to wear gloves to protect your hands). Peel and chop the onion and garlic finely. Cut the red bell pepper in half, remove stem, seeds and membranes; dice.

Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the garlic, onion, chili and red bell until just tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the corn.

Spray a shallow casserole dish such as a glass/ceramic pie pan with nonstick cooking spray and spread the beans on the bottom of casserole dish. Next, place the corn mixture over the beans 1" from the sides of the pan so that there is a border of beans visible. Sprinkle the cheese over the corn. At this point the casserole can be covered and refrigerated until ready to bake.

Bake at 350 degrees F until cheese is melted and the contents are hot - about 20 to 30 minutes depending on how cold the ingredients were before baking. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the green onions and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with warm corn tortillas or tortilla chips. Our family loves this dish with the avocado salsa.

Variations: Use pinto beans (Frijoles Mexicanas) instead of the black beans.

Mexican Pizza: Another fun way to serve this dish is to layer them the same way as above on individual corn tortillas, pita bread, or tostada (crisp corn tortilla) shells and bake until the cheese melts. Serve warm with your favorite salsas like Salsa I, Salsa II, avocado salsa, or Simple Guacamole, sour cream, shredded lettuce, etc.

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